The Empathy Workshop: Share Your Stories

Paul Rucker is sharing the making of his new body of work with The Project Room throughout 2013-2014. Please join him on October 11 at 6pm for an on-site workshop, and share your stories in response to this essay about his work and ideas.

A couple of weeks ago I was part of the “8th Annual Constitution Day” at the Maryland Institute and College of Art. The theme this year was Inequity and Incarceration in America. My video Proliferation is pictured here behind David Simon- creator of The Wire, Ashley Hunt- Artist Activist, and Susan Barton- Activist.



When I started working on bringing attention to incarceration, it wasn’t because I spent time in prison. During my first year of college, four of my friends back home were involved in a drug related murder. They robbed an elementary school principal who was working late one evening. When the principal resisted handing over his wallet, he was shot. They used the $76 from the robbery to buy drugs and beer. Later convicted, one was executed by lethal injection. A second was released and later incarcerated again for an unrelated crime. He died in prison during his second sentence. The other two have since been released after time served.

I felt for the shooting victim, but I also felt something different for the four involved in the shooting. I remember a time we were all young kids playing on the playground. Part of what I felt was survivor’s guilt; part of me knew that no one is born with ambitions of robbing, or killing.

So I’m creating work about incarceration, but I have never been incarcerated. Would I have more “street cred” if I had been? I ask this because out of the three panelists and the moderator at the Constitutional Day event, Susan Barton, understood the broken system more than anyone because she lived it. She served 6 prison terms for drug related offenses. What’s remarkable to me is that she started A New Way of Life Reentry Project, an organization that gives to just-released female offenders a sober and safe place to live and other support services. She’s helped more than 400 women get back on their feet.

I can try to understand, but even with the best imagination, I’ll fall short of having any idea about what she has experienced.

Former drug users that are now drug treatment counselors are far more trusted than someone who has never been an addict. Mutual understanding of the struggle can be a strong base for trust.

While I work on my project Recapitulation, I feel that exploring empathy should be part of the project. I’d like to extend an invitation to share your stories about your earliest experiences with empathy. You can submit it anonymously. Stories will be shared.

Special instructions:


Write 500 words or less about your early experience with empathy.


For artists:

Create something using only discarded or failed art pieces that have been set aside. No one is allowed to buy any new art material, but they can and are encouraged to exchange failed or incomplete art pieces from each other. Any medium- including digital, photos, movies, drawings, sculpture, etc.

Please send writings and images to

And Join me in The Project Room on Friday October 11 from 6-7pm for a workshop based on this work.

Thank you for joining in this discussion.